2002-03-30 / Letters

Need To Stop Prejudice

Need To Stop Prejudice

Dear Editor;

I love Far Rockaway! When I went off to college at Tuskegee University in 1986 to study Aerospace Engineering, the first person I met, now Dr. Sidney Bryson, nicknamed the woman I was in love with "Far Rockaway" because I told him so much about the place I left before arriving in Tuskegee. Sidney has never been to Far Rockaway, but last November, when the news spread that a plane went down in the Rockaways, he E-mailed me to find out if any of my relatives were involved in the fatal plane crash. Whenever he asks about the young lady, Michelle, he asks, "How's Far Rockaway doing?"

Though I attended Far Rockaway H.S. (go Seahorses!) during the 9th and 10th grade, Michelle (originally from Trinidad and now a Doctor of Education), my next-door neighbor, later attended Beach Channel H.S. It wasn't until a recent trip to Far Rockaway that I learned from an associate who lived in Belle Harbor at the time that Beach Channel H.S. was supposed to have been the superior school. Back in my day, as a member of the soccer team of Far Rockaway and a losing candidate for student body office, I remember thinking that Far Rock was an excellent school with lots going on academically, in the student body and in sports. A day I'll never forget is when Dave Kingman (Kong) of the New York Mets came to Far Rock and hit one on the roof from the baseball field as my fellow Far Rock students and I watched in total awe! Far Rock was an excellent experience for me.

As a new member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in 1980, I used to drive from Fort Bragg, N.C. regularly to visit my relatives; but mainly Michelle. After picking her up from Beach Channel, we'd oft times drive down the block to what was then Rams Horn. On some Saturday mornings we'd walk along the beach lazily at the break of dawn from our houses on Beach 47th Street towards Rockaway's Playland. Getting across the Cross Bay Bridge was being back in the comforts of home when we arrived from partying early on Sunday mornings.

After I completed my MBA in December, I decided that this was a good time to consider moving back to Far Rockaway. While in New York interviewing in November, the American A300 crashed in Belle Harbor. Again, it was painful to see my fellow Rockaway residents deal with a disaster less than two months after the terror attack. Again, the horror fate had bestowed seemed personal.

As I watched the television accounts of the plane crash in Belle Harbor, I was moved by how the TV people referred to Belle Harbor as a "close-knit Rockaway community". The stories the press shared were certainly heartwarming and it was nice to see a Rockaway community being projected in such a favorable light.

New York has always divided itself based on religious or ethnic differences. As a teen, I rode my 10-speed across the Cross Bay Bridge on my way to visit my aunt in Cypress Hills just to be intercepted by an Italian teen in Howard Beach. He stopped me because I was black and riding my bike through, "White Harlem". After he discerned that I wasn't trying to stir up trouble, he advised that I should let him escort me back to the Cross Bay Bridge because if someone else stopped me the person probably would not be so nice as he had been. Upon arriving back at the Cross Bay Bridge, I thanked the young man for being kind to me and looking out for my well-being. Years later, four young men of African descent would be assaulted and one would be killed on the highway near the New Park Pizzeria in Howard Beach simply because of their race and an automobile breakdown.

When Michelle and I were seeing each other, she enjoyed eating at a pizzeria in Howard Beach. I recall the concern I had in going into that area. She didn't seem to share my fear for our safety. Despite my internal anxiety when we visited the pizzeria in Howard Beach, she and I never had any trouble there and we were always treated with courtesy and respect. The pizza there was a lot better than what we could find near Mott Avenue and it was a fun drive across the bay for some excellent pizza!

Ultimately, we are Americans regardless of where we come from, what religion we practice or the color of our skins. September 11th was an attack against all of us. We are inextricably tied to each other whether or not we want to be. When Osama attacked America, he didn't attack black Americans or Italian Americans, he attacked all Americans. This is one America and the Rockaways should reflect that unison. We have to start looking out for each other and to treat each other well regardless of skin color, ethnicity or any of the other discriminators that divides us. We have to learn to truly live together. We have to understand that it's important that all our children obtain excellent education and grow in safe neighborhoods so that they can become productive adults. If not, we will all pay in one form or another. If we can get this done, we will all benefit in one form or another because what happens in one town does affect the other town just as what happens across the waters affects the United States.

We need to find ways to stop prejudice and division based on skin color, religion or ethnic background and start appreciating the diversity that our varied backgrounds adds in making America such a strong, dynamic and resilient country. People are the same regardless of their heritage. There are good and bad in every group of people and a lot of times the discriminators in behavior have more to do with income or educational levels than with ethnicity, color or religion.

Is it really necessary to continue to live in segregated communities because of fears and biases? Is there a reason that the depth of a person's wallet cannot be the deciding factor in where he/she lives?

This author humbly submits that the Rockaways will be better, the state of New York will be better and America will be stronger when we truly have one America and one Rockaway. That would be an excellent legacy to leave our children and grandchildren. America is a great land and Americans have big hearts. It's time that we truly became the close-knit community, state and country that we all want to be. The first step is to change our hearts towards each other and to treat each other as we want to be treated. The laws are in the books, now our hearts need to implement them. We need to take the lead to make this happen and there's no time like now to begin. One America, one Rockaway.

DEAN MARTINEZ


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